The UEFA Champions League group stage will culminate on Wednesday, with the final eight games of the opening phase of the competition being played on the day. In Group H, Chelsea will lock horns with Zenit St Petersburg at the Krestovsky Stadium, hoping to secure the top spot ahead of Juventus. Zenit St Petersburg have unsurprisingly been the third-best team in Group H and are certain to finish third ahead of Malmo FF irrespective of the result on Wednesday due to a better head-to-head record. The Russian champions have fared decently in the past month, having not been beaten in their last five games in all competitions (W2 D3).
On the other hand, Chelsea booked safe passage through to the Champions League Round of 16 long ago, with the only formality being the title of Group H winners. The Blues are currently perched atop the standings after beating Juventus in their Matchday 5 clash last month. Still, they will need to match or better the Bianconeri’s result on Wednesday against Malmo to remain on top.
The Champions League holders do not enter the game on Wednesday in the best of forms, having been beaten 3-2 by West Ham United this past weekend. That result was their first defeat since a run of two losses to Manchester City and Juventus in September.
Chelsea enters the game after a defeat but they have been impressive both in the Premier League and Champions League. The Blues have won three of the last five matches and registered the victory in four of the five UCL meetings. On the other hand, Zenit also hold the streak of five unbeaten games. They have been going through the turns of draws and wins, winning two of them in the last five games. But the Blues look more confident for the win. The last meeting between the teams also witnessed Chelsea on the winning side.
Chelsea’s front line has been offering enough numbers in the recent matches. They have hit the target 12 times in the last five outings and scored at least two in four of them. On the other hand, the hosts of this game have also produced ten goals in the previous five outings. So both teams clearly seem in the form of being able to collect a total of over 2.5 goals.
However, after beating Zenit 1-0 in the reverse fixture in the same month courtesy of a goal by Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea will fancy their chances of coming back from St Petersburg with all three points. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Zenit missed the target once in the last five attempts but have been consistent in their home games. On the other side, Chelsea have scored in all of the recent matches. Adding more to this, they scored seven goals in the last three away games. So our next pick for this match would be a BTTS outcome but Chelsea restricting their rivals to a low score for the lead. The blues have claimed three clean sheets in the last five games away from home.
For the third successive campaign, Zenit St Petersburg have been eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage; however, this time they have avoided finishing rock bottom after claiming four points from their fixtures against basement club Malmo.
Since their score draw in Sweden last month, the Russian giants have beaten CSKA Moscow 2-0 on the road, before drawing 2-2 at home against FC Rostov last Friday, a game in which they were trailing by two goals before the half-hour mark.
Sergei Semak’s side remain top of the Russian Premier League, two points clear of Dynamo Moscow, who they will face next on Sunday. Although one eye will certainly be on this eagerly-anticipated league clash, Zenit now turn their attention to Wednesday’s battle with Chelsea, which will be their 200th game in European competition – becoming only the second Russian team to reach this milestone after Spartak Moscow.
Zenit’s only previous meeting against the Blues was their opening Group H game earlier this season, when they lost 1-0 at Stamford Bridge thanks to a 69th-minute header from Romelu Lukaku.
After frustrating Chelsea for large spells in London, Semak’s men will be hoping to replicate their performance and come away with a more positive result this time around, to end their group campaign on a high.
Wednesday’s fixture will be the third time Zenit have hosted an English team in Europe and they will be looking to claim their third successive victory, having previously beaten Bradford City 1-0 in the 2000 Intertoto Cup and Liverpool 2-0 in the 2012-13 Europa League.
Despite leading 2-1 at half time thanks to a Thiago Silva header and a brilliant Mason Mount volley, second-half strikes from Jarrod Bowen and Arthur Masuaku – the latter catching Edouard Mendy off guard with a mishit cross in the 87th minute – ensured the Hammers went away with all three points.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel stated after the game that “individual mistakes” have crept into their recent performances which has seen them concede five goals in their last three matches, as many as in their previous 12 across all competitions.
The Blues have now slipped down to third in the Premier League table, two points behind leaders Manchester City, and as keen as they will be to move back to the top-flight summit, their primary focus is now on Wednesday’s final Champions League group game in Russia.
Chelsea have accumulated 12 points from their five Group H matches, claiming four victories by an aggregate score of 10-0, with their only blip away against Juventus in September, when they lost 1-0. The Blues got their revenge against the Italian giants last month, cruising to a 4-0 triumph at Stamford Bridge, meaning a win on Wednesday would guarantee their place at the top of the group.
Tuchel’s side have won each of their three away games against Russian opponents in the Champions League, and could become the first English side since Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 2003-04 and 2010-11 to win four consecutive games in the competition while keeping a clean sheet.